Tomorrow's Paris motor show promises to be a belter. An early tot-up suggests 55 new cars will be launched, but that's without adding in any of the potential surprises, which the home manufacturers in particular are suspected to have been keeping close to their chests.

What we do know is going to be there demonstrates the best of the car industry's far-reaching abilities. From the familiar-on-the-surface-but-shockingly-clever Volkswagen Golf through to the achingly beautiful Jaguar F-type, thoroughly modern take on the Range Rover and the fascinating and rare McLaren P1, this is a show that has it all.

Yet I'd strongly advise keeping an eye on the news behind the launches, as that's where the real drama is going to lie. For all the glitz and bravado, this is an industry back in crisis – and one facing a growing realisation that the slide might have only just begun and could plunge to frightening depths this time.

The plights of Fiat, Ford, Citroen, Peugeot, Opel have been well known for some time, but the signs are they are reaching a moment of truth. The cuts must come, and they must be deep and fast if they are to see out the turmoil. After months of teetering on the brink of action, now you sense it is coming.

But, more shockingly, in the past week some of the major players have started to wobble. Volkswagen has warned that a European sales slowdown might threaten its growth plans, while Mercedes has warned that a poor performance in China is undermining its ambitions. Many rivals would love the problems of VW and Mercedes, but if players as big and proud as these are willing to express concern, you start to get an inkling of what's on the horizon.

Beyond the launches, then, the Paris show promises to be an intriguing few days of posturing, positioning and jostling among industry execs trying to balance the realities of their situations against the need to present a positive front. Nothing makes bad news a reality faster than talking about bad news, but even the backdrop of a motor show buzzing with launches can't hide the grim reality facing the industry.